11 June 2014
“Rich boys and their toys” usually describes the obsession of wealthy men to use their wealth to achieve something they can do only through their wealth, because they lack the ability to ever be likely to do otherwise. The success of magnates like Alan Bond and more recently Larry Ellison in winning yachting’s America’s Cup by bankrolling campaigns rather than any innate sailing ability of their own comes quickly to mind, but they are by no means exclusive examples.
Now, the concept has even extended to politics, with the variation that the obsession is usually with a more quixotic than mainstream political brand, and the likelihood of ridicule and catastrophe that much higher. In terms of the individuals themselves that is not necessarily something to be worried about (because they all seem pretty odd to start with anyway) but its implications for the body politic and the expression of democracy are more worrying.
In Britain, a multimillionaire football manager called Paul Sykes has donated more than £1.5 million to the neo-fascist, racist UK Independence Party, which polled strongly in the recent local and European elections. In Australia, the Federal Government looks increasingly likely to be hostage to the irascible, eccentric, classic car for every day of the week, mining magnate, Clive Palmer, who funded his fledging Palmer United Party to the tune of $A12 million at last year’s Federal Election to protect his own interests. And now the cancer has spread to New Zealand. Two equally bizarre and unlovely characters are spraying their largesse around to achieve their allegedly political objectives. Kim Dotcom has donated around $3.25 million to his fledging Mana/Internet/Old Style Jim Anderton Alliance Party with the expressed purpose of not influencing his forthcoming extradition battle, but more nobly, utilising this hydra headed vehicle and the renowned tactful and conciliatory skills of the Harawiras to make a positive contribution to the good and stable governance of New Zealand. At the other end of the spectrum (I think, although can never be sure, given the musings on chem trails and moon landings that may never have been) Colin Craig has funded his Conservative Party to the tune of already more than $2 million in its fight against the social advances of the 21st century and for a return to the values of the Old Testament.
Now, one of the elements of a functioning democracy is that everyone has the right to have a say. No problem at all with that – but the question has to be asked whether that includes the opportunity to buy an election we now seem to be witnessing. Or, put another way, the right to use financial resources to achieve outcomes they could only dream of otherwise.
Amidst all the fog and buffoonery that accompanies them, an essential fact remains. Just as no yachting syndicate would have ever selected a Bond or an Ellison on the basis of merit or ability, most surely there is no credible political party anywhere on earth that would have selected a Sykes, or a Palmer, a Dotcom or a Craig, as a candidate on the basis of what they could potentially add to the national tapestry and rational discourse, a point we as voters should never overlook.